A new dynamic

Maria Caterina Benincasa, Import Supervisor, Customs Department, Bergamo Hub, reveals how DHL staff rose to the challenge of working from home during the pandemic in order to get life-saving equipment to customers.

“When it became obvious that we were facing a pandemic in Bergamo, everyone at the hub was frightened. Even so, when we were told that the customs department –350 colleagues in total, 130 in our Customs Import dept. – would have to leave the office and do our jobs from home, some staff were skeptical. Many colleagues didn’t have a lot of room and were worried that it wouldn’t be practically possible to find a quiet corner in which to work. Others had children at home because the schools were closed, nobody had access to babysitters and they couldn’t call on grandparents to help. How would they cope?

Nevertheless, those worries disappeared in the blink of an eye, because a huge increase of COVID19-related shipments – such as masks and other items of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), coronavirus tests and ventilators – began pouring into the hub. It was critical that this essential, life-saving equipment cleared customs, and we were the ones who had to make sure it happened. That was our motivation, our energy. Suddenly everyone in the department found a new willingness to keep going, to keep working, and find their own solutions to the personal challenges they were facing.

When the announcement was made, the first logistical issue that had to be overcome was getting the right equipment to everyone. We had no time to wait for new laptops to come in, so every member of staff was immediately assigned with a desktop computer from the office. That meant we had to take a monitor, keyboard and phone home with us so that we could contact customers. Everyone had to learn quickly how to set up the computers by themselves, although the IT department had already organized a simple log-in system, which made it easier. The whole department was up and running remotely within a week.

2,300

The number of laptops DHL purchased for its workers in EU countries at the height of the pandemic.

Another challenge was organization because the customs department is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week – so supervisors had to make sure that each shift was covered. In the office, it’s easy to arrange shift patterns and to distribute work to people. That’s not the case when they’re at home, so we knew we had to connect everyone – and the fastest way to do that was by creating shift-specific chat groups on WhatsApp. Later, when home working became more established, staff were able to connect with each other through Skype and Zoom.

Customers were really grateful for the way the department handled this extraordinary situation. Many of them said “thank you” to us when we called them, because they knew we were doing our best to proceed with the clearance of the masks and PPE they needed in the fastest possible way. That’s not to say working from home has been easy, yet some amazing things have happened. For instance, one colleague thought lockdown might be a problem for her eight-year-old son, but he was quite relaxed about it and very helpful. In fact, he would sometimes knock on her door when she was working and say: “Can I bring you a cup of coffee?” She said she saw him grow in that time, almost from a boy to a young man. She took her energy from him and he, in turn, enjoyed her being home all the time. It created a new dynamic between them.

Thankfully, we’re not in an emergency situation in Bergamo now, but the idea is for the customs department to keep working from home in the future, because staff have shown themselves to be more flexible and available. There was a worry that we would become disconnected from each other but, actually, being away from the office has made relationships stronger. I’ve had continuous communication with my team, other supervisors, staff and managers. In fact, the other day, one of my colleagues said: “Since we’ve worked from home, we’ve never talked so much and felt AS ONE!’”


Image: Mario Rota for Delivered